Maritime safety on Kangaroo Island

Boat owners know the importance of regularly hauling their vessel out for maintenance. Modern marinas often have gantry cranes (shown above), which are typically suitable for vessels up to several dozen tons. Traditionally, slipways provide a lower-cost alternative and can be designed to accommodate vessels of all sizes, large and small alike (at least up to several hundred tons).

Kingscote slipway on Kangaroo Island.
Haul-out facilities are not just for vessel maintenance though. They also serve an important maritime safety role. In particular, vessels in distress can be hauled out for emergency repairs.

Maritime authorities everywhere are tasked with ensuring safety at sea, and here in South Australia the Boating Facility Strategic Plan, identifies "improving safety outcomes" as one of the top three priority areas (the others being "activating key boating hubs" and "connecting key boating routes"). The Plan further states that "marine infrastructure shall be managed to achieve the vision for marine safety."

Which brings me to the matter of Kangaroo Island's one and only slipway. The SA Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) has decided that this slipway should be closed, claiming "ongoing low usage." Regardless of current usage, this decision flies directly in the face of "improving safety outcomes".

Let's consider two scenarios. For a vessel in trouble in the middle of the notorious Backstairs Passage, say 35°41.4'S 138°4.3'E, Kingscote is only 41 km (22 nautical miles) away. The next closest haul-out facility is at Port Adelaide, a distant 120 km (65 nautical miles) away. For a boat in distress, limping along at 4 knots, that would be an excruciating 16 hours away, compared to only 5½ hours.

Another scenario is a boat in distress south of Kangaroo Island, say 36°10'S 137°21'E. Kingscote is 145 km (78 nautical miles) and 19 ½ hours away at 4 knots. Port Adelaide is 227 km (123 nautical miles) and 31 hours away. Suffice to say, a lot can go wrong during 31 hours at sea.

Kangaroo Island has over 500 km (270 nautical miles) of coastline, half of which is exposed to the fury of the Southern Ocean. Surely the best way to "improve safety outcomes" along this stretch of coast is simply to keep the Kingscote slipway open and available for vessels in distress.


PS The nearest mainland marina, Marina St Vincent (Wirrina Cove), lacks haul-out facilities.